The University of North Carolina Tar Heels came into the March Madness finals looking for redemption after last year’s last-second loss to Villanova on the Kris Jenkins buzzer beating three pointer. North Carolina has been calling this season its “redemption tour” in reference to what happened last season.
The truth of the matter is, UNC never should have made it to this year’s championship game, but they did. They lost three starters from last year’s tremendous team, and they added a recruiting class that was not even ranked in the top 25 in college basketball.
The Heels were not expected to win a national championship this year. Most people had them finishing a few games back of an ACC championship. Despite this, they played well all year and ground through some difficult March Madness tournament games to reach the finals, despite not being the powerhouse they had been in 2016.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ trip to the finals of the March Madness tournament was what many would call a dream season. During the regular season, the Zags lost just one game to Brigham Young University. Their nearly undefeated record granted them the No. 1 seed in the NCAA March Madness tournament.
South Dakota State, Northwestern, West Virginia, Xavier and South Carolina all had their national championship dreams thwarted by the Bulldogs during the tournament, and Gonzaga made it to the national championship.
On Monday, April 3, North Carolina brought the Bulldogs’ amazing run to end. The Zags did not play as well as they did earlier in the tournament, but the game was still very close. However, at the end of the game, things fell apart.
After several questionable foul calls, freshman center Zach Collins fouled out of the game with 5:03 left to play. To make matters worse, Gonzaga’s monstrous center Przemek Karnowski had four fouls with 8:02 left to play. With Collins gone and Karnowski being forced to play a less aggressive game, Gonzaga’s game was limited severely on both sides of the ball.
As if this was not enough, the referees missed an out of bounds call and Zags guard Nigel Williams-Goss injured his ankle in the final minutes.
For North Carolina, the two coldest players on the team and probably in college basketball were the stars of the show on Monday night. Isaiah Hicks and Joel Berry had been having an unbelievably bad tournament, combined to hit three out of 26 field goal attempts in Saturday’s final four matchup against Oregon. But on Monday, both players came to play. They both hit some extremely important shots for North Carolina in clutch situations, helping the Tar Heels redeem themselves in 2017.
As the clock ticked to zero, the confetti rained down on the new national champions, the University of North Carolina. It was a sad day for the Zags, as it truly seemed that they could have won the game had the circumstances not been so against them. When asked if he felt that the better team had won, Bulldog Josh Perkins said, “Obviously not. You’ve got to give them credit for getting it done down the stretch, though.”
The Tar Heels were favored to win the game, but once both teams stepped on the court, it was apparent that the Bulldogs could just as easily bring home the national championship. The fact that they could have won the game makes the loss sting a little bit more.
Going forward, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will lose some talent next season, which will certainly hurt them. But after a championship season like this one, recruiting becomes much easier. The Zags can only hope to rebuild an even stronger team for next season, and revenge their championship loss. As the Tar Heels have shown, teams can defy all odds and emerge victorious.